Croatian President Zoran Milanovic has become embroiled in a new political scandal after arguing against military support for Ukraine and likening Russia’s annexation of Crimea to Kosovo’s independence from Serbia.
Milanovic became notorious for his controversial statements made shortly before and after the start of the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine, which are seen as pro-Russian, in contrast with the government’s position.
Speaking shortly after several European countries agreed to send tanks to Ukraine, the president said that Croatia should not get involved in the war but must only send humanitarian assistance and condemn the aggression. Milanovic also said that he opposes sending ordinance to Ukraine as it could not help end the war.
Referring to Kosovo’s declaration of independence from Serbia, he said that Russia could claim the situation with Crimea is the same as in Kosovo. This is a point previously made by Moscow to justify support for separatists in post-Soviet republics.
“Who annexed Kosovo? The international community, including us. [Kosovo] was forcibly taken from Serbia … It was not annexation, it was snatching, a part of Serbia’s territory was taken away. How do you call that? Extraction… I am not questioning Kosovo but rather the entire concept where one thinks they can do anything when it suits them, but when the other side does it, then it is a crime,” Milanovic said as quoted by N1.
He added that "it is completely clear that Crimea will never again be a part of Ukraine”.
He also argued that what the West is doing is “deeply immoral”, and that Germany sending tanks to Ukraine would only serve to unite Russia with China.
“They [the West] will make [the Russians] become closer with the Chinese … It is my duty to make sure we move away from that, to not be circus poodles. Yes to humanitarian assistance, condemnation of the aggression, but any involvement in [the war] is lethally dangerous,” Milanovic said.
The ruling HDZ, which has been supporting Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion, made a scathing response to Milanovic on Facebook.
“Today … Milanovic goes a step further — he explicitly calls #Ukraine to surrender, to cede a large part of its territory to Russia,” says a post on the party’s page.
“With his insane statement about the "kidnapping of Kosovo" he became a star in the Serbian media, not only in the Russian media. It goes from bad to worse,” it added.
Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, a frequent critic of Milanovic, said the president is “sinking deeper and deeper into a quagmire”, reported Croatian news agency Hina.
A separate statement from the association of founders of the HDZ called the president’s statements "irrational and extremely dangerous discourse”. “It has been obvious for a while that Milanovic is trying to cut short the war by pandering to Russia and coveting a carve-up of Ukraine as security for a European truce,” the association said, N1 reported.
However, his words were welcomed by Serbia’s Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic, who said Milanovic showed “principled respect for international law”.
A few days earlier, a similar scandal erupted in Hungary, where Prime Minister Viktor Orban compared Ukraine to Afghanistan and called it a "no man's land".
In February 2022, ahead of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Milanovic sparked a controversy by saying that no stability is possible in Europe without Russia. He also argued that Ukraine should not be accepted into Nato and that in case of war Croatian troops would be pulled out of Ukraine.
In May 2022, Milanovic again took a rather pro-Russian position, saying he would veto the admission of Sweden and Finland to Nato if he can. That statement provoked outrage in Croatia.
In August, Milanovic said that the Western sanctions have harmed Croatia and are not effective against Russia. An EU and Nato member, Croatia imposed sanctions on Russia following the invasion of Ukraine in February.
In January this year, Milanovic directly criticised the EU sanctions on Russia, calling them “a disaster and total nonsense”.
“They are not working and it is a question of how much damage it will cause to Europe. In addition, we have brought Russia and China closer together,” Milanovic said.
He caused a separate scandal by denying the Srebrenica genocide during the bloody 1992-1995 Bosnian war when more than 8,000 Bosniak (Bosnian Muslims) men and boys were killed.